Shooting for the Moon – a David Alan Harvey lesson

Last March I took David Alan Harvey’s class at GPP. One of my fellow students chose to shoot Sheikh Zayed Mosque for his photo essay. It turned out pretty well, except for the ONE shot David kept asking him for: “get me the Moon and the Mosque together”.

It led to some memorable in-class exchanges – from which I learned 2 things: don’t argue with David and you should shoot a day before or after the full moon – it looks better.

Lesson 1 was actually pretty useful during the class. Arguing with DAH over the relative merit of ones pictures is pointless. It’s not, by any stretch of the imagination, a class based on objective criteria. It’s self-consciously and shamelessly subjective.

So if David tells you to go get the Moon over the Mosque – you go try to get the Moon over the Mosque (or in my case, the fishermen’s bedroom). If you do, great. If you don’t, chances are good that you’ll have learned something in the process anyway.

Lesson number 2 stayed with me for a while. I live right next to the Mosque, I see it every day – so much so that I sometimes forget it’s there. Until I read something about a Supermoon coming up, and I figured I’d get my ass in gear. A quick check of the “The Photographer’s Ephemeris” told me that I was in luck, full moon was in 2 days so the next morning (remember, a day before) I was in front of the Mosque, double parked on a highway, with my tripod perched on top of a pedestrian bridge.

And that’s where, a full 5 months after the class, DAH taught me something again: I’m really, really, really not a landscape photographer (and I get bored really, really, really easily) (also, even in the UAE and in June, it can be cold in the morning)

By the way: it is absolutely possible to get shots of the moon and the mosque. One of mine made “Photo of the Month” at GPP.

So thanks David, for some great butt-kicking and inspiration. See you next year.

What it feels to win …

Gulf photo plus was running a competition during their 2014 edition. The premise was simple – shoot stuff, tag it with #gpp2014, and maybe win.

I’ve participated in a few competitions, never won anything, and as a matter of sanity, I’ve decided I wouldn’t anymore… frankly, the agony of choosing “a good picture” is just too much for me.
David Harvey told us in class (I’m paraphrasing) that he didn’t think competitions and awards were very valuable – after all, who remembers winners even after a year. His take? Build your body of work. If you’re a pro, that’s what art directors will look for, and if you’re an amateur, that’s what you want the world to see – your book, not your trophy case.
A recent article by Eric Kim made the same point indirectly, by admitting to the absolutely subjective nature of judging (I’m not naive – but having it spelled out for you is still an eye-opener).

So I didn’t really enter the competition on purpose. I was tagging my work as a matter of fact – to share with as many like minded people as possible.
I didn’t even realize I was participating – I thought I would’ve had to choose a pic and fill in a form.
But the good folks at gpp made it hard on themselves, and easy on us. They seemingly collected every thing that was tagged over the course of that week, and then sifted through it to choose what they liked.

As it turns out, mine is one of the 5 they chose to win. I didn’t even learn of this until the next day – for the first time in ages I’d had no internet access for a full day, and I only noticed when Congratulations! messages started appearing in my timeline.

Whatever I may think of competitions, I’m truly honored, because it means that my picture stood up to enough people to make it through the winnowing process to the top 5.
I still think there are some more valuable pictures in the lot that haven’t won but the sense of pride I feel is real: a few people, who don’t know me, collectively liked my photo enough to push it through.
If I’m cynical, I’ll say that this satisfaction is the same as the primal urge I feel when someone “likes” one of my Facebook posts. I know that, but I also believe, in part, that I’m happy because it means that I’ve managed to connect and to evoke feelings through the image, which is ultimately why I take pictures.

So, thanks to GPP, and maybe I should rethink competitions …